With the recent developments of the Department of Justice’s clarification of the 1961 Wire Act and the pending poker legalization bill by Senator Joe Barton, it appears that the glory days of poker will soon return. But two experts believe that things will be much murkier, and may even get worse from this point onward.
Professor I. Nelson Rose, one of the world’s leading experts on the topic of gambling law, recently wrote on his blog that he has doubts that the Wire Act clarification is a positive development for supporters of legalized online poker. He argues that because every individual state is now allowed to legally offer games to their own jurisdiction, federal officials will actually see less need to pass any federal online gambling legislation.
In addition, attorney K. Preston Oade argues that the lack of a law supporting international online gambling at the federal level could prevent any existing offshore gambling site from being able to remain in the American market. The result could be a sea of tiny disconnected State-run markets with very high rakes, as we’ve seen in legalized poker for countries such as France and Italy. There is even more skepticism from Oade on the effect that Joe Barton’s bill would have on the poker landscape. He writes:
“The Barton Bill strengthens the UIGEA with a much broader definition of unlawful online gambling than the Wire Act or the current UIGEA… It defines ‘internet poker’ as a form of ‘unlawful internet gambling’ and would make internet poker illegal without a U.S. license. Unlike the vaguely worded UIGEA, this is fairly clear and enforceable.”
On his blog, Oade writes that with the recent clarification of the Wire Act, the UIGEA currently has no teeth. This makes the current legal landscape the least prohibitive (since the 2006 UIGEA) for U.S. players being able to play on sites licensed outside of the USA. He explains “…the UIGEA relies on and references the Wire Act definition of unlawful online gambling. One refers to the other, so the two laws are interrelated.” However, having the Barton bill pass now could actually seriously hurt U.S. players’ freedom of choice and online poker market size.
He makes it very clear that should the Barton bill become law, the result would be an isolated United States poker market, just like Italy and France. The bill also allows for any state to opt-out of the market, which would block every player within the opted out state from accessing any of the licensed sites, resulting in an even smaller market. He concludes with:
“…the PPA should declare victory in the online poker war. It should also abandon its support of the Barton Bill and urge U.S. poker players to return to online play. If it does this, currently existing online poker sites will have more players and better games. And more and better poker sites will likely arise to fill the hole in the online poker market left by Black Friday.”
It appears that U.S. players are currently in a “sweet spot” when it comes to current poker law. While these are just the opinions of Professor Rose and K. Preston Oade, their arguments have a lot of merit. Up until now the Barton bill seemed to be the best thing to come along since the 2006 UIGEA was passed. But let’s not be too hasty in pushing through a bill which could potentially choke off the fragile U.S. online poker market. In our current situation with a toothless UIGEA, we may have rolled back the clock to a time where internet poker for Americans isn’t expressly legal or illegal. If we can be sure of anything, it’s that this state of legal limbo isn’t likely to last very long.